Lili Taylor (The Haunting) is in for a rough time in James Wan’s new horror film, The Conjuring. The story centers on Carolyn Perron (Taylor) who takes the brunt of supernatural abuse at the hands of a spirit who haunts her family’s home. She and her husband Roger (Ron Livingston) call on acclaimed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) to put an end to the strange phenomena.
During a set visit, Taylor talked about getting into her character, make-up tests for her progressing stages of possession, scaring her movie daughters and what makes a classic horror movie. Hit the jump for the interview with Taylor and be sure to check out our set visit recap, plus interviews with James Wan, Patrick Wilson and Ron Livingston. The Conjuring opens July 19th.
Lili Taylor: Flying? Oh, I’m not going to do this part of it. I mean, I like to do stunts, but obviously, I don’t want to get hurt. So, I’m going to come in at some point.
What was it like getting into the mind of your character? I know they said that the family was on the set, except for your character, right?
Taylor: Oh yeah. You mean the real people? I didn’t meet them. I just didn’t. You know, it sort of worked out that our paths just didn’t cross and it was just as well for me, because I didn’t really know that much about them. I think it’s probably more important for Vera and Patrick, with the Warrens, you know?
So, how do you put your mind in the character? What’s your process like?
Taylor: Well, James is great. James helps with it a lot. James is shooting it chronologically, which helps a lot with, because I don’t, it takes a lot of the burden off the actor, so it’s happening as it would happen. That’s helped me a lot. That’s helped put me in the mind. And, you know, a lot of it is just trying to be right here and now, as much as possible, because basically, she’s really scared, for a lot of it, and then she’s like ferocious for the last part of it. So, just being really scared, is just basically just really imagining what it must be like.
And then the possession part?
Taylor: Which I’m about to get into, big time, tomorrow. You know, that’s other worldly, is what it is. I mean, and if you’ve ever seen people who are possessed, really, really possessed, it’s almost like they don’t sound human and they’re not acting human, in a way. So, that’s almost like I just put my seatbelt on and just buckle up and just go, you know.
We saw you lighting matches on the staircase earlier. Were those like actual matches that were burning your fingertips?
So, that was a real reaction?
And have you done makeup tests yet for the possession?
Taylor: I did makeup test yesterday and Justin is fantastic. He’s the special effects make-up guy, and Kelly, his assistant, they’re great. And it’s there. We need to make one tweak, but he did a really great job. James is so great because what James does is, he wants to look as real as possible except just a little bit off, you know. He doesn’t go for like a stereotypical, like what you’d imagine. It’s not what you’d imagine or you’d imagine this sort of this old lady, but he didn’t want that. They first presented grey hair and no, it’s like he went with something very yeah, that’s interesting but also a little off, you know, and the same with my thing. It just, there’s something a little bit wrong, like one of the, second stage possession, I have these contacts in, these brown contacts and they’re so subtle. It’s almost like you know, people are looking at me and they’re just cocking their head a little bit, they’re not quite sure what’s wrong with me, because I’m sort of dead in the eyes. It’s just a little bit off and that sort of, to me, sums up James’, some of James’ way in.
So, you said second stage. Are there progressions?
Taylor: Yeah, there’s the first stage progression, which is almost like, to me, I’m almost thinking about it like a flu, like I’m not feeling so great, but I’m still kind of here. Second stage possession, like the second stage of contacts are in, a little darker brown. I’ve got a little bit of stuff happening around the lips, like sores, some broken blood vessels around andI think I’m much more, almost as if, you know, you imagine almost the analogy of rabies, that the rabies is sort of, like I’m now thinking about how to get that rabies into somebody else.
And do you know if that’s all going to be practical or are they going to do any CG type things?
Taylor: Very little CG. James is like a lot of it is old school, which is all so great.
How do the actresses that play your daughters feel about seeing that, like are they so young that it might freak them out?
Taylor: Well, only two of the daughters are going to be here of the heavy duty stuff, because thank God, just two got caught in my little web. So, the other three escaped, thank God. The older one is, the thirteen year old, Joey, she’s got a pretty good head on her shoulders and I think she’ll be fine. Kyla, I’m not sure. I mean, I think she’s going to be ok. She’s eight. You know, I don’t know how these kids do it, but it’s interesting though. James had said one of the kids he worked with in the city was getting scared actually. And that, I don’t know, maybe that kid was around eight. I don’t know what James is going to do with Kyla. She might get a little scared. It’s pretty scary, the possession look.
Do you like getting scared in real life? Are you a fan of horror movies? Do you have any favorites?
Taylor: I am a fan. I think that, I think they’re important actually. I think, just like, I just think it’s a really healthy thing to have sort of us to go into this place, there’s an agreement. There’s a boundary. We know it’s going to be ok. It’s sort of like when you’re playing monster with a kid. There’s just an agreement, you know, and it’s a healthy way to discharge, to just get stuff out and it’s fun. I mean, I see The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby at least once or twice a year. They’re just classics. Recently, Insidious, I think James is doing a great job. I think he’s really good. I mean, I guess I probably like more the classics, probably.
Do you feel like this movie it feels like one of those classics in the making, sort of.
Taylor: I do. I think in some ways he is using The Exorcist as a template. What I love about the exorcist was, you know, you can actually have depth and meaning, good acting, and interesting cinematography, and have a genre, you know, and what James is doing is it’s looking beautiful – John Leonetti, the DP is brilliant – and it’s looking gorgeous, it actually has a very ‘70s feeling. I think he being inspired by Friedkin’s French Connection and Exorcist. I’m sort of using thinking of Burstyn a lot, you know, just a thought of her performance was just beautiful and surprising and unique and specific and I think what I like is that James allows reactions that maybe others might not like because they’re not general reactions. They’re not like classic, you know, how stereotypically you’d imagine someone might behave scared, but like if we see a documentary when someone’s really scared, it’s usually a much more interesting reaction, you know. And maybe unusual and James is allowing that, you know, where maybe a more commercial director might say, “No, no, no, no, that’s too unusual,” you know, “We have to make it so that they get it in Kansas,” or something, you know, which is ridiculous. So, in all those ways, I think that James is sort of making a classic movie.
Had you been offered horror?
Taylor: I did The Haunting and you know, I would do it again except with what I knew, I would do it again, but it didn’t work out and you know, I mean, I think the thing is, it’s like, the thing of what you don’t see, it’s scarier, and unfortunately, that just didn’t happen. You start to see everything, but that was abstract to me because it was all green screen. So, to me I was just seeing cones and lights. So, I thought, “Well maybe…” but then I was like “Oh no.” There were just too many cooks on that one, I think. James is great because he’s chosen, the people around him all respect his vision and there’s nobody telling him what to do and I think it’s gonna make a better movie. So, I love horror when it’s done well, but obviously, we don’t like it when it’s not done well, obviously. It doesn’t work, right?
Taylor: None. No.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Taylor: That’s fine. I mean, I think people are going to have their things. It’s part of probably the myth or the whatever the little stories are that a group needs to keep going and you know, you can find anything anywhere, pretty much, you know?
Have you had any experiences in your past with the supernatural?
Taylor: You know, I did have one and I feel like of two minds about this stuff. In some ways it’s like I do know I had a weird experience. Someone else was there to verify it. I don’t understand it, and I know something weird was happening. On the other hand, I would say, “No, I don’t believe in ghosts.” So, I feel like, and I’ve heard ghost stories from people who have experienced it and I really believe them, but I also say, “No, I don’t believe.” So, it’s very strange and I can hold the two things at the same time.
Taylor: Yeah, so, I don’t know. I don’t know. I guess I’ll just say, “No comment.”
But in terms of what happened to the actual woman, do you believe that this stuff happened to her, per se? I mean, do you think from all of the research you’ve probably done. Do you…
Taylor: I don’t know. But you know what, it kind of doesn’t matter in a way, because to her, it felt real. It’s sort of like with a kid. If a kid is scared, you just sort of have to acknowledge and say, “You’re scared,” because it’s real to them. I don’t have to actually validate or verify any of it and that’s in fact why I didn’t want to get into any of it, because I didn’t want to get into like, “Well actually they later found out that.” You know what mean? Because to her, it was very real. So, I have to believe it’s real but if you’re going to talk to me about whether I believe it happened to her, I don’t know. I mean, I know she went into therapy after. You know, we could talk to her therapist. Maybe she had some other stuff going on that was coming out through the manifestation of fear of a ghost or whatever, but I don’t know. Yeah.
Whats your relationship to your character’s husband in this movie? We saw a little bit of him, but apparently he’s a traveling salesman, so he’s not around as much?
Taylor: No, I don’t think he is.
Taylor: No. He’s a truck driver. Yeah. You know, the relationship feels really nice, considering they have five kids, you could have a couple who has no sex life, who are exhausted and who have no kind of, you know, are just kind of, you know, bickering or I don’t care kind of thing, and what you have is you have two people who still have some energy, have a sex life and are like, I think they like parenting together. I think they enjoy it. They got lucky. They have good kids. I mean, you know, not good kids, easy kids. So, they’re a nice couple. They have a nice relationship, which has been nice to play, because it’s just kind of a drag when you have to play someone who is just bickering with their partner. You know, it’s a toxic kind of thing.
Since the Warrens are also married, is there any way in which the couples inform one another’s portrayal on screen or relationship?
Taylor: You know, I think there is actually, someone else, another journalist, was talking about just the families in this, you know, and I hadn’t really thought about that, and I hadn’t really thought also, about just the couples, the relationships, because also their stuff is abstract to me, because I’m not in their scenes really, but I know James is so smart and I’m sure he’s doing some really interesting parallel stuff, but I also just know wardrobe wise, production design wise, I can feel how to looks are very different, you know? I think we have sort of a more just kind of… Let’s say they feel a little more refined to me, a little more intellectual in a way, quieter. We’re like a little bit more chaotic, louder, you know. And their relationship seems much more intellectual actually, even though they’re actually quite grounded, you know, grounded in their kind of sensory perceptions, you know what I mean? The way they’re perceiving, they’re sort of intuiting, but they also have quite a strong intellect, which I think makes them interesting, you know, and not just goofy of like, I feel like hippy-dippy, you know. It’s actually more interesting than that.
Have you met Lorraine?
Taylor: Yeah, she was on set.
Did you get to talk to her about her experiences and stuff?
Taylor: Not really. No, no.